While still focused on the crises in Japan and Libya, President Obama heads to Latin America this weekend in an effort to promote economic ties and also patch up relations with Brazil, the dominant country in the region.
Obama will also visit Chile, an ally, and El Salvador, which is struggling with drug violence. But the main event is Brazil, where former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva once complained that the U.S. acted like an "empire" and that nothing had changed under Obama, the Washington Post
Obama, in his first visit to Latin America as president, will meet with Brazil's new president, Dilma Rousseff, as the two leaders seek to re-set relations between their countries. Both sides are ready to start over, Julia Sweig, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar, told the Post. "Now they have to translate that optimism and goodwill to figure out what they can do together that's in both of their interests and how to mitigate the tensions that will naturally arise."
Obama said his trip is meant to "strengthen our economic relationship with neighbors" who play a growing role in the United States' economic future. The recent "turmoil and tragedy around the globe" underscores the importance of maintaining close economic links with neighboring countries, he said.
"Our neighbors in the Americas are bound to us by a shared history, values, interest," the president wrote in an op-ed column for USA Today
. "What I will convey this week is that we are partners in progress. Strengthening these partnerships will advance common prosperity and common security of all our people, creating new jobs and new growth across the hemisphere, and helping our economy remain an engine of strength and opportunity for all our people."
Obama said Latin America's impressive growth "is good for the people of the hemisphere, and it's good for us. Thanks in part to our trade agreements across the region, we now export three times as much to Latin America as we do to China, and our exports to the region . . . will soon support more than 2 million jobs here in the United States."
First Lady Michelle Obama will also have a busy schedule during the trip, highlighted by visits to schools and cultural events, and a speech she will give in Santiago, Chile, aimed at Latin American youth, Politico
reported. "She is extraordinarily popular overseas and is a huge asset to the U.S. in terms of her ability to continue our outreach to the region," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said earlier this week.
In preparation for the trip, the president granted interviews Friday with televisions stations in Miami, Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C.